The Vatican Secretariat of State has directed that certain changes be made to renew how liturgy is celebrated at St Peter’s Basilica. The principal differences are the suppression of multiple private Masses, and the restriction of Masses celebrated according to the so-called Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.
The latter will be strictly limited to a single altar in the Clementine chapel (in the crypt), and only at designated times by an authorized priest. The instruction also directs that all Masses will be animated by the ministry of lector and cantor. The directives ensure that the liturgy as it was reformed after the Council will clearly predominate at St. Peter’s going forward.
Veteran Vatican reporter Gerard O’Connell, writing in America, notes that it has been the practice of numerous priests in recent times (some working in the Curia) to say their daily Mass, often according to the older rites, at one of the side chapels. He interprets this instruction — correctly, it seems to me — as a reassertion of liturgical priorities flowing from the Council, which moved away from such a model toward a more communal understanding of the liturgical event:
The focus on larger, shared liturgies rather than many lone Masses every day is in accord with the spirit of the liturgical renewal introduced by the Second Vatican Council. The aim of this instruction is to ensure that the liturgy is celebrated in accordance with the liturgical reforms of Vatican II and becomes abundantly clear in the third point of the instruction, which states that “the celebrations (of Masses in the basilica) should be liturgically animated, with the assistance of lectors and cantors.”
The instruction is framed as an effort to “return to the Lord” prompted by the spirit of the season of Lent. It says further that the goal is to “ensure that the holy Masses in the Basilica of St. Peter’s are conducted in a climate of recollection and liturgical decorum.” By simplifying the situation, by having fewer Masses but ones where many can attend together with appropriate ministries included, a “climate of recollection and liturgical decorum” will be easier to achieve.
By itself, the instruction should not alarm those who are attached to the older rites. Those who wish to attend Mass according to the older rites at St. Peter’s will still be able to do so. Yet its appearance suggests that a general shift in the era of Pope Francis, moving away from the agenda of a “reform-of-the-reform” and/or a restoration of the pre-conciliar, is continuing. As a positive statement in favor of celebration of the liturgy as a communal event, according to the letter and the spirit of the Council, it could not be more welcome.